It's a well-known fact that old Bertie was really, really keen on motoring. He would make his way all around the country in his beloved horseless carriages. Upon his coronation in 1902, he owned no fewer than four Daimlers, but he was introduced to his cutting edge hobby while still the Crown Prince, in the 1890s, by *deep breath* John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, who was himself a pioneer of early motoring. He was the very first person to drive a car into the yard at the Houses of Parliament, don't you know! But while his legacy, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu does indeed have a much wider range of historical automobilia, it's a long way away for a semi-crippled half-marathon survivor. Conveniently though, there is another right on my own doorstep, which is actually a much older and even more suitable venue for a Ginger-themed jaunt! So it was there that I limped off to this week to investigate his Majesty's love of horseless carriages.
Brooklands was a motor-racing circuit and aerodrome, built by the very regal-sounding Hugh Locke King in 1907, the very same year that our hero awarded the Royal Warrant to the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. I've actually visited the Royal Automobile Club with Miss Minna, and it's very grand. Quite right that I should visit too, since I've been paying my RAC fees for years! Anyway, as well all know by now, The King's Ginger was actually invented by the King's own physician, who was worried about his Majesty going out driving his horseless carriage in the fresh air. The idea was to ward off the cold, and any germs; as well as sharpening his senses. The latter seems rather doubtful since KGL is an extremely strong libation, as I've discovered to my... inebriation... before. Luckily, not very many people could afford a car at the time. That, and they went very slowly.
The Clubhouse that you can see me posing in front of above, was the first building to go up. It now contains a rather amazing room, which is themed on one of the most famous lady racing drivers of the 1930s, the thoroughly remarkable (not to mention personal idol of mine) Dame Barbara Cartland. More on this later. How do you like my new racing suit, by the way?
There were so many fascinating things to see, do and read in the museum. From real horseless carriages to sleek 1930s cars and even modern F1 beasts. Unfortunately, the real Edwardian treasures were quite hard to photograph, hidden away in corners or behind glass.
The top of these two magnificent machines is a 1910 AC Sociable 3-wheeler. I like to think of it as a very early Reliant Robin, as made famous by Trotter's Independent Traders. But the bottom one is fascinating. 'Daisy' was owned by Ethel Locke King (wife of Hugh), and she is a 1904, Siddeley 2-seat Tourer. She was also the very first car to ever be driven round the Brooklands track, when it opened three years later, and took part in the London-Brighton Run in the 1930s, and was being driven up until the 1960s! She's a wonder to behold, as, I'm sure, was Ethel herself. Pity all you can really see in the photo is a reflection of my dear old mum.
Being a keen cyclist, these old penny farthings and particularly the Racer at the top fascinated me. As I inspected the label and realised with amazement that it dated to 1901, a chap about my age passed by and remarked, "looks exactly like something you'd find chained up in Shoreditch, eh?". Indeed. The archetypal O.G. fixie! If only I could borrow it for the next Tweed Run!
We then went to investigate the Clubhouse, paying particular attention to the Sunbeam cafe, the deco sunburst-windowed canteen in which we had a meal of scampi and chips that would have pleased Bertie. And then we hit my favourite bit, the Ladies' Reading Room. Now known as the Barbara Cartland Room!
All done in pink and unashamedly girly (as you would expect), it's filled with pictures of Dame Babs looking glamorous in the 1930s, amazing furniture and also information about the intrepid racing ladies of yore. I especially enjoyed the picture of Miss Muriel Thompson (any relation, Naomi?), winning the Ladies Bracelet Handicap in 1908. We couldn't vote... but we could still burn rubber (...if we were wealthy and/or married to a male racing driver... technicalities)!
I found several examples of lovely Edwardian clothing, accessories and ephemera.
Hats, a menu from the 1907 opening day, a driver's coat. All in such amazing condition after more than 100 years. Marvellous.
There was only one thing left to do, and that was to go and examine some planes. I looked pensive in front of some very spindly Edwardian planes. Edward was the first monarch to have any association with aviation (indeed it hadn't been long invented!) when he travelled to Paris in 1908 to meet and observe the Wright Brothers. But the King loved his food, so he never got to have a go at flying himself... these rather rickety contraptions would have been unable to carry him!
And then I marvelled at the WWII ones. It actually humbles me to think what the young men had to endure on bombing missions. But since this is a story about the era of King Ed, I thought I'd finish off with a go on the 1907 racetrack that made Brooklands a part of motoring history (and also an amazingly clear target for German bombs in WWII. Whoops.
The banked track at Brooklands fell into disuse decades ago. Strangely enough, the big Tescos nearby is practically built on a section of it, and despite having seen it hundreds of times over the years, I never actually realised it was a racetrack. I'm a bit slow like that. Anyway, while I wanted to have a go, I was clearly not going to be allowed to do it in a car, so there was only one thing for it. A swig of revivifying King's Ginger...
And she's off (slowly and in a very apt turn of phrase, you could say gingerly, due to my poor tortured gams)!